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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shows her passion for video games on Twitch

The young Democrat MP, nicknamed 'AOC', has once again shown that she is in tune with the geeky youth of the United States. By playing Among Us live, she attracted a huge audience.

The Among Us game dates from 2018 but has recently seen a strong spike in popularity. Players take on the role of colorful little astronauts on a space station, but some of them are impostors who must assassinate others, when the latter must do their utmost to unmask them with a knockout vote. So you need both a good dose of deduction, à la Cluedo, but also qualities for bluffing and rhetorical skills. Among Us particularly attracts viewers to Twitch, the video game streaming platform, because it is fun to play and watch.

But it was a rather peculiar channel that was a hit with audiences on October 20: that of left-wing American Democratic Party MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “On the 19th, she launched her Twitch channel, without fanfare, just asking on Twitter who would be interested in playing with her,” rewinds Wired. In less than twenty-four hours, “the reactions have frantically accumulated”.

Relaxed atmosphere

Several big names in the platform and in geek culture answered the call: Jacksepticeye, Pokimane, DrLupo or Myth. But AOC, as it is nicknamed, was also accompanied by another politician: Democratic MP Ilhan Omar. "Ocasio-Cortez is far from being the first politician to meet gamers where they are," said the California magazine. He quotes Bernie Sanders, who came to speak about the Covid-19 crisis in March in a live chat. Or Donald Trump's channel, suspended for a period of time this summer, recalls Wired, “for non-compliance with the rules on hateful content”.

The fundamental difference here is that “AOC really plays”. A fan of Animal Crossing, she is also familiar with the highly competitive League of Legends arena game, the magazine continues. She was also a guest on Hbomberguy's Twitch channel, which earlier this year hosted a broadcast of Donkey Kong 64 to raise funds to help transgender children.

On Tuesday's stream, the mood was pretty light. The whole group was not assembled for purely political purposes but primarily for a few relaxed parts of Among Us. A success, according to Wired, with a peak audience of 440,000 spectators, an excellent number. Of course, the presidential campaign came into play nonetheless, with jokes about the critical importance of voting (in-game and in real life) and AOC's allusion to a meme. “We must officially declare Orange a suspect,” she said - in other words, vote for the expulsion of Donald Trump.

Ocasio-Cortez is far from the first politician to go where the gamers are. Bernie Sanders’ fireside chat on Covid brought over 50,000 viewers to his channel in March. Twitch temporarily banned Donald Trump’s channel, launched late last year, for violating policies against “hateful content.” Joe Biden’s campaign has one, too, with a bafflingly low 2,500 followers.

But other politicians’ Twitch streams are, for the most part, chats, rallies, or if you’re the Biden campaign, lo-fi train footage. Ocasio-Cortez games. And fellow first-term congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who created her own Twitch channel, joined her, her Twitch icon a stoic Gundam. By the time Ocasio-Cortez went live at 9 pm ET Tuesday night, over 260,000 people had hit “Follow” on her Twitch channel. Twenty minutes before she signed on, 50,000 viewers sat in wait, filling her chat with encouragement and emotes.

Piker’s chat was effusive as well. “What a wonderful day,” said Piker, grinning into the camera. Chat rolled on: “TOP QUEEN ON TWITCH” and “LET’S GOOOOOO” accompanied crying Pepe the Frog faces. An ad for the Marines played. Then, Anys went live. “I’m so hyped I want to throw up,” she said to 30,000 viewers. “I think this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life, actually,” she said.

Next came Ocasio-Cortez. “This is pretty insane,” she said from a tiny square at the bottom of the screen to 163,000 live viewers. Soon, 200,000 more would arrive. Admitting she just started playing Among Us Monday night, Ocasio-Cortez described how, with two unscheduled hours on Monday, she ran into Best Buy asking for webcams and mics. There weren’t any, because of the pandemic, so she outsourced to her community. Grassroots.

“Is it weird we’re calling you AOC?” Piker asked. “You guys can call me AOC. Mike Pence can’t call me AOC,” she replied with a laugh. She troubleshooted her audio a little, with chat’s feedback.

In the first match, Ocasio-Cortez was named the imposter, tasked with murdering and sabotaging her cohort. “No!!!” she yelled. “Oh my God. Oh my God.” She buried her face in her hands. Back when she was doing community organizing work, she confided, someone asked if she’d ever considered going into politics. “Oh, no way,” she said at the time. When they asked why she said, “It’s because I’m a bad liar.”

Ocasio-Cortez killed her first player, the singer-songwriter Maia “mxmtoon,” and accidentally reported it to the group herself, a possible giveaway that she was responsible. As they debated who the imposter was, Ocasio-Cortez buried her face in her hands. The next round, after much deliberation, she killed Anys, Twitch queen bee with over 6 million followers. After Ocasio-Cortez stuck a knife in her back, Anys accepted her fate: “It was an honor. It was an honor to serve you.” She bows.

Ocasio-Cortez is no stranger to Twitch. Last January, she dropped in on a Donkey Kong 64 stream to raise money for transgender kids alongside games YouTuber Harry “Hbomberguy” Brewis. As recently as July, after the military launched Twitch channels in attempt to recruit gamers, Ocasio-Cortez introduced an amendment to prohibit “the use of funds for recruiting via video gaming and e-sports platforms.” (The House voted it down.). Ocasio-Cortez also isn’t new to gaming. She’s ranked a respectable Silver III in League of Legends, although she says she hasn’t played in a while, and in May made virtual house calls to Animal Crossing: New Horizons players’ islands.

Uproariously funny, the Among Us stream was a Large Hadron Collider of online celebrity. Evolving from shy quiet to finger-wagging accusations, Ocasio-Cortez leaned into the deception, and the Twitch environment, strategizing out loud and issuing low Oooooohs in spicy deliberations. Chat moved so quickly, it was impossible to read and often broke, haltingly publishing messages. Occasionally, Ocasio-Cortez mentioned or “voting early”—a reference to Among Us’ voting system and, of course, the upcoming election. Twitch streamers nearly matched her enthusiasm for democracy, with Ali “Myth” Kabbani referencing his first time voting ever (early) and Hasan Piker suggesting to viewers that, if they care about net neutrality, they might want to vote blue. (Ocasio-Cortez said one goal of tonight was to “officially declare orange sus.”)

Three hours in, they were still going strong. “I think I’m too task-focused,” said Ocasio-Cortez of her playstyle. “I need to be running around and finding people.”

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